Last Thursday a young girl arrived at Kipsing Primary School just as it was getting dark. She was alone and she had walked a long way to get here. Her serious expression made her look older, world weary, but her height and skinny build fitted exactly with her age. She was ten years old and she said she wanted to go to school. Her parents refused to let her come to school, they thought girls were useless and she had to herd goats or fetch firewood and water for the homestead, so she had run away. But there was something else, something she didn’t talk about, though everyone knew, she was beaded.In Samburu culture a warrior can ‘bead’ a girl who is not yet circumcised in order to have sex with her. The girl has no choice in the matter. So long as her brothers agree, and it is regarded as a great insult to the warrior if they don’t, she must comply. If she doesn’t she will be beaten. Samburu elders will tell you this tradition helps to reduce promiscuity because once a girl is beaded only that warrior may have sex with her. In reality it is little more than community sanctioned rape of a minor. The young girl who arrived at Kipsing Primary school that night didn’t talk about being beaded, about being the sexual property of a man when she was only ten years old, she didn’t have to, she came wearing his beads around her neck, all 3kg of them.
Samburu girls are circumcised at around fifteen or sixteen years of age and the family will arrange their marriage soon after. Before circumcision warriors may bead girls to have sex with them but a warrior will not marry a girl he has beaded. It is also strictly prohibited for the girl to get pregnant. However warriors do not wear condoms and are not held responsible for a pregnancy should it occur. As nobody gives family planning advice to ten to fifteen year old girls in remote parts of northern Kenya pregnancies occur all too frequently.
It is believed that should an uncircumcised girl have a child the whole family will be cursed and individuals may even die. If the family suspects the girl is pregnant they will attempt to abort the baby. First with a mix of local herbs but if that fails they will push repeatedly down on the girls stomach to force a miscarriage. Some girls will suffer this kind of abortion two or three times before being circumcised. If the abortion fails and the girl gives birth the family must get rid of the baby to avoid being cursed, traditionally it is killed within an hour of birth.Nobody doubted, that the little girl who turned up that night, needed more than education, she needed protection. This school, like so many others in the north of Kenya, serves a wide spread and remote community. Many of the children who go to these schools have to board as they live too far away to walk to school each day. The Catholic Church at Kipsing provides boarding accommodation for girls but it costs 3000ksh (£20) per term. This is a lot of money for a family here to raise and it is an impossible sum for this girl. Beaded girls cannot be taken care of by a local family because according to tradition the warrior has the right to come and take the girl by force. It is simply too dangerous to ask a family to protect a girl from a group of armed men. The teachers at Kipsing School understand all this; most are from the Samburu community or have worked here for long enough to know. But without the funds to support these girls there is very little they can do.
By chance we arrived in Kipsing the following day to see some of the groups we work with in the area. We arranged to pay for the girl’s accommodation at the catholic boarding house and for her to get the school uniform and other basics she needed to attend school. This young girl was lucky, the school she turned up at has understanding and supportive staff and we happened to be there just in time to provide financial assistance. Many girls in her situation are not so lucky. That is why we are setting up an emergency fund to ensure that girls like this never need to be turned away. The fund will enable teachers and other support workers to say yes, straight away, without worrying about where the money will come from to support the girls. So please help us to give these young girls the safety and security that they need.
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